By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—THE Senate, yesterday, vowed to hold accountable, every appointee chosen by President Muhammadu Buhari to help him address the nation’s myriad of economic problems.
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who made the declaration at the celebration of one year of the 8th Senate, sought the support and co-operation of the President to discharge this oversight task.
Lambasting his colleagues for failing to take steps to come up with the necessary policy and legislation to put the economy on the right track, Saraki implored the President to look beyond his party, All Progressives Party, APC, to get the best brains to help him run the economy.
He said: “We are confident that one year after, the President must by now have better clarity on the capacity of his appointees. The Senate would not hesitate to hold any appointee accountable for the work he has accepted to do.
“We would like to seek Mr. President’s support and co-operation to enable us discharge this oversight task.
“We have failed to take the necessary steps in policy and legislation that would set us on the path to developing the kind of economy we desire.’’
Senate worries over worsening economy, unemployment, militancy, others
Saraki expressed concern about the worsening economic situation in the country, which had culminated in retrenchment, rising cost of living, unemployment, insurgency and renewed militancy in the Niger Delta.
He said further in his address to his colleagues in the chamber: “These are serious challenges that require all hands to be on deck. There is no other time in our history than now, when the business of government needs to be conducted with great inclusiveness.
“We must find a way to bring the best brains in our country on board wherever they may be found. Even those who did not vote for us but believe in the change that we all believe is necessary to move our country forward should be given a seat at the table.
“If we are able to mobilize the best human resources that God has bountifully blessed our country with, I have no doubt that with God on our side, we shall overcome.
“We note the Federal Government’s plan to invest N500 billion in social protection programmes in the current budget. We want to urge the government to ensure that appropriate mechanism is devised to ensure that the benefits of these programmes get to those who are genuinely in need.
“It is important that, as we move forward in this fight, considerable attention is paid to strengthening the anti-corruption agencies to enable them discharge their functions with greater efficiency and fairness.
“We want to assure Mr. President that the Senate will continue to play its part in the fight against corruption, which we believe is cardinal in our desire to improve governance in our country. We will also continue to broaden the scope for increased openness and accountability that we have promised at the legislative level.
Tasks FG on fight against mass poverty
“While government has made progress in the fight against Boko Haram and in the fight against corruption, the fight against mass poverty remains a daunting challenge. Rising cost of living, increased cases of retrenchment and corresponding rise in unemployment, inability of state governors to pay salaries and upsurge in ethnic-based agitation potentially deny government the full credit of the great strides it has made in other areas.
“The same energy that has been invested in fighting corruption and Boko Haram must be invested in taking care of the people, in making life easier and better for them. We need to begin to assure Nigerians that the sacrifice that they make today will not be in vain. We need to begin to show them that there would be light at the end of the dark tunnel. So, we must not relent in our efforts in this area over the next years ahead.
On N-Delta militants
“I cannot end this address without a note on the on-going security challenges we are beginning to witness in the Niger Delta area of our country.
“We urge the warring militants to embrace our democratic institutions and channel their grievances through appropriate quarters as we can ill-afford further damage to the ecosystem of this all important region and any more disruptions in the system.
“In the same vein, we also encourage government to adopt dialogue and engagement as a more lasting option towards resolving this challenge. We also call on the leaders in the area to play their part and ensure through mediation that this menace is comprehensively quelled.
“The collapse in oil price has, without doubt, brought huge shock to our economy on a scale that perhaps, has never been experienced before. This requires us to develop creative strategies that would stimulate business and investments into other sectors.
“For decades, we have talked about the need to diversify our economy. But we have failed to take the necessary steps in policy and legislation that would set us on the path to developing the kind of economy that we desire.
“The Ease of Doing Business Report that ranks our country 167 out of 189 countries is not likely to attract business into our economy. This Senate understands this. With the support from our international development partners, the organized private sector, we commissioned an expert report which identified 54 extant laws that must be reviewed and brought in line with international best practices in order to open up our economy for private investments and business.
“For too long, Nigerians have challenged us to justify our presence in this chamber. Many have wondered what exactly we do here or why we should be entitled to certain privileges. I believe that the best answer we can provide to all these is to continue to seek ways that would enable the ordinary citizen feel the impact of the Senate in their lives.
“I dream of a day when the poor woman sitting in her house in rural Awka would be able to see the benefit of our work on her life. I dream of a day when a child going to school in Gusau would feel the benefit of the laws that we make.
“I dream of a day when a young lady in Osogbo would be able to say how the Senate has helped her small business. I dream of a day when a farmer in Ogoja would see how those of us gathered in this chamber have helped to improve his life. I am confident that if we continue on the path that we have walked in the past year, that day will come soon. “
PDP could have produced Senate president, others — Akpabio
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, while reflecting on what happened before June 9, which culminated in the election of Saraki as Senate President, said with what was on ground at that time, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, would have produced the Senate President and other principal officers.
He said though his party had the number of required senators needed to produce the Senate president, following the absence of some All Progressives Congress, APC, lawmakers, it decided to put the interest of the nation first.
Akpabio, who noted that some intrigues played out prior to the election of Saraki as Senate President, said: “You (Saraki ) were jittery and sweating on that day. If we had wanted to take over the Senate, the PDP would have done that. We had the chance to take all the positions but because we are not greedy, we decided to allow the APC take over.”
Speaking on the general state of affairs in the country, Akpabio warned that if something urgent was not done, Nigeria would be plunged into crisis.
He said: “In the South-South, people have abandoned their homes because of activities of Niger Delta Avengers. The North is in turmoil; the South-East is boiling because of agitation. The South-West is the only peaceful area, but they still send mercenaries to other areas to fight.
“I want to urge the APC to market this country very well. The way the APC is saying the country is full of criminals, investors will not come here to invest. They must change the way they talk about Nigeria. Things need to change.”
Only God gives power — Ekweremadu
Also speaking, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, urged detractors of the Senate to leave the institution alone to work, saying it was only God that gives power.
He said: “I am proud of our accomplishment as a Senate. On June 9, 2015, as I look back now, there are a number of our colleagues who were not here, but today everybody is here.
“We were divided along the lines of Unity Forum, Like Minds and Non-aligned, but today we are united as one indivisible Senate, working for the progress of our nation. We can only remain patriotic. Our parties may differ, but we have one country and we have one constituency which is Nigeria.”
Also speaking, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who hailed the mutual trust and understanding of lawmakers, stressed that unlike in the past, senators have shown maturity and had been able to put their differences aside.
“I want to add and commend the mutual respect and relationship that exist between the opposition and the ruling or governing party. In fact, your maturity level has gone to an extent that you rightly behave as minorities instead of opposition for democracy.
“That is very commendable. Their number is so much as the Senate President says that he can be intimidated.”
Put the past behind — Adeyeye
In his remarks, Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, urged senators to put the past behind them and proffer solutions to the myriads of problems bedeviling the country.
He said: “Some things have not gone right in the last one year. If we say we have no sin, we lie and the truth is not in us. We need to tell ourselves the truth. We need to put our pasts behind us and work together.
“No matter the political party we belong to, the country is in turmoil. The economy is in a bad shape; insecurity is very high; unemployment is unimaginable. The next one year must not be like the last one year. We must make a difference.”
Budgets must focus on capital projects, says Murray – Bruce
Also contributing, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, PDP, Bayelsa East, took a critical look at government’s activities and declared that national budgets over the years, had been made to give undue priority to recurrent expenditure.
He also noted that budgets must be structured in a manner that paid at least fifty percent attention to capital projects.
He said: “We celebrate one year in office but I am very troubled by our economy. A lot of things have gone wrong and we have no time to fix the problems. Everybody complains that the price of oil has caused the decline of economy.
“But everybody must understand that the oil sector contributes fifty per cent to the GDP. The GDP cannot all of a sudden have a negative growth of minus .36 per cent. And if we have this again this quarter, we go into a recession.”
“We have a very serious problem, coupled with the fact that 18,000 babies are born in Nigeria everyday, more than the whole of Western Europe combined and population growth with the declining economic growth is a terrible combination to have.
“This is coupled with the fact that after one year, the budget has not been implemented as Kemi, the Minister of Finance has said.
“It is very unlikely the budget would be implemented fully this year because we have only six months to go.
“Now, let me make a request to President Buhari. When the budget for next year is presented, he must give Kemi a direct instruction that recurrent expenditure should not exceed 50 per cent of the budget.
“It is ridiculous for us to talk about capital expenditure of N1.5 trillion in a N6 trillion budget when, in fact, we should be talking about the N6 trillion budget, the capital expenditure budget should be the only budget. Recurrent expenditure is a fixed amount; regardless of what happened, you have to pay salaries.
“As a country of 170 million people, the civil servants in Nigeria are only 2.2 million. If 2.2 million people consume 75 per cent of our entire budget, then we have a serious problem. What is going to happen is that Nigeria can never develop.
“That is the fact of life. If we want Nigeria to develop, recurrent expenditure can and should never exceed 50 per cent as a starting point regardless of the consequences. No budget to be presented to the National Assembly must exceed 50 per cent for recurrent.
“We want money for capital expenditure, we want money for healthcare, we want money for education, we want money to solve our problems.
“We cannot survive as a nation if all we do is pay salaries for 56 years. It is a very serious problem and here is a subject nobody talks about, population explosion 18,000 babies born every single day and these are excluding babies born from rape victims. This is a serious problem.”